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All Rules in Running Horror Adventures

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Creating Atmosphere

Source Horror Adventures pg. 204
An adventure might be a masterpiece of terror, but if it’s being played on a sunny day with people laughing in the background, the players still might not be able to feel the mood. The surroundings can be a GM’s greatest ally in telling a truly effective horror tale, but they might also work against her entirely. Consider the game space as a stage. This section includes ways that a GM might manipulate that performance space to create an atmosphere perfect for horror adventures.

Game Space

Source Horror Adventures pg. 204
Since playing Pathfinder can take up a considerable area, the size of which is often limited by any number of practical constraints, game space can be one of the most difficult environmental factors to influence. If the GM has a choice, though, she can seek a quiet place where interruptions will be few—traffic and background noise can negatively impact the atmosphere being created. If she has to share a space, it might help for the GM to tell nonplayers that she’s running a game and would appreciate not being interrupted, or she might schedule a time when disturbances will be limited. While a GM might consider running the game outside or in creepy surroundings like a crypt or cabin in the woods, keep in mind that such a venue could be distracting in itself and is probably more trouble than it’s worth.


Source Horror Adventures pg. 204
Dimming the lights can go a long way in creating a moodier environment. Shadows add an air of the unknown, and cause everyday distractions to fade away. Make sure that the players can see, though—there’s a lot of reading and page referencing in Pathfinder that GMs don’t want to turn into a chore. A room with lights on a dimmer switch works well, as does turning off overhead lighting and moving a single-bulb lamp into the room. Candles and non-electric lamps typically prove distracting and troublesome, if not outright hazardous. While rooms with natural lighting can create issues during the day, at night, the dark can make them prime game spaces.


Source Horror Adventures pg. 204
Used well, music can be a powerful tool for creating atmosphere. Handled poorly, it can be a major distraction that irreparably warps, or even completely ruins, a game’s mood. When a GM uses music in her horror game, the goal is to create a subtle but ever-present auditory undercurrent that reinforces her descriptions of settings and events. The music fills in gaps in the action with content that supports the story’s atmosphere. Often breaks in play get filled in with distractions, but effective musical choices can counter that. Consider the following tips when selecting music to include in a horror adventure.

Avoid the Familiar: Music should evoke a theme, but not a specific scene or character. Therefore, be wary of using immediately recognizable songs. Players who identify a particular theme will naturally associate a game with the source’s events, often to distracting ends.

Keep It Simple: Don’t let tinkering with audio devices or searching for the perfect song get in the way of a game. Assemble a playlist before the game. Select a theme for major NPCs and significant events, a few for prominent locations, one or two for battles, and one for a final battle. If a GM can run her music from a computer or phone, preferably linked to a wireless speaker, she can readily switch between tracks without leaving the game table.

Repetition: RPG scenes usually last longer than a typical music track. Rather than assembling dozens of pieces of music for every event or location in a game, find songs that work well in repetition. Video game scores work well for this as they’re often designed with repeat listening in mind. Set a music player to repeat a track, changing it when the scene or story demands. Avoid songs that have an obvious element to them, like a particularly dramatic crescendo—so players don’t notice the same section every time. In the best cases, players will notice the music for only a few moments at a time before their attention shifts back to the game.

Steady Mood, No Lyrics: A GM shouldn’t have to compete with the music for the players’ attention. When selecting music for a game, instrumental music that fades into the background is ideal. Avoid music with lyrics, as language distracts from what’s being said and is noticed more readily when it repeats. By the same token, a GM wants songs that inspire a consistent mood. If a piece jumps from somber to upbeat, it won’t serve when needed for one or the other.

Volume Manipulation: Most times, a GM wants background music to be low and subtle so players focus on the game. That said, manipulating volume allows her to create a number of special effects. Try using the music’s volume to manipulate player attention. If the players’ attention drifts, a GM can slowly turn up the volume until their focus shifts back to her. Once they’ve noticed she’s waiting or has begun speaking, she can turn it back down. This is a fantastic way to end breaks and signal that play is restarting.

Volume Matching: In action-packed scenes, a GM can turn an energetic track up and raise her voice over it, quickening her speech’s tempo to evoke a sense of urgency. If everyone has to speak louder to be heard over the music, it’s easier to envision the hectic or dangerous nature of the accompanying scene. As with all narrative special effects, this technique works best when used infrequently.

House-Ruling Distractions

Source Horror Adventures pg. 205
Portable games, social media, and other hobbies vie for everyone’s attention. A GM, though, is the arbiter of the rules, both those in the game books and in her own house rules. Consider setting a simple house rule: When at the game table, the group is playing Pathfinder— and nothing else. Phones are away, computers are off, other hobbies and distractions—even RPG-related ones like painting miniatures—are set aside. The GM might expand this to most food and drink as well since eating and the presence of food containers undermine immersion.

There are a number of reasons to adopt such rules. The first is simple engagement. Some players say they can do two things at once, but if they’re not focused on the game, they’re not imagining the story, thinking in character, or noticing the atmosphere. The second is a matter of verisimilitude. The characters likely don’t have electronic devices. It’s easier for everyone to envision their fellow players as their characters if they’re not engaged in activities that run counter to what’s possible in the game world. The final reason is just a matter of courtesy. A GM puts thought and time into an adventure, and the other players invest a similar degree of consideration in developing their characters. Just as an audience would in any other storytelling medium, players should repay such efforts with their respectful attention.

If including rules for what is and isn’t allowed at a game table, the GM should make them clear before the game starts, possibly explaining why or showing players this section of text as reasoning. The goal here is to create as atmospheric and immersive an experience as possible, not to be a tyrant.